Access to health insurance can be challenging for many Canadians.
According to a survey of nearly 3,000 Canadians by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, over half of those surveyed said they had not been able to find health insurance that covered their health needs.
The survey also found that over half (53 per cent) said that the cost of coverage was unaffordable for them.
According a study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canadians living in rural areas have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than those in urban areas.
In a 2015 study by CAMH, the rural and remote areas of Canada saw the highest rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, and mortality.
In 2016, CAMH found that more than one in five adults aged 16-24 had suffered from diabetes.
More than half of Canadians with health insurance did not have health insurance during the survey.
One in four respondents said they did not know how to apply for health insurance.
“Access to insurance is an extremely important piece of healthcare for Canadian seniors,” says Dr. Christine DeMarco, a professor of community health at the University of Ottawa.
“When you’re older, and you’ve had a lot of medical issues, that’s a very serious problem.
And people are not covered in Canada.”
DeMarco says there is a need for an insurance pool in rural communities.
She says the federal government should set up a national health insurance exchange that would cover all Canadians with the right coverage.
“The problem with this is, the federal system is very fragmented, it’s very slow, and there are a lot more parts to it,” she said.
“So if we could do a national insurance exchange, we could get more coverage into rural and regional areas.”
The government should look at creating a new health insurance pool for rural communities, she says.
“They could pool resources to help with rural health care.
It would be much better than a provincial health plan.
It could be cheaper, and it would be better for rural health, too.”
The Health Access Commission says it is working to create an insurance market in rural and rural communities that would allow rural and northern residents access to insurance.
Dr. Mark Piotrowski, executive director of the Health Access Partnership, says a regional health plan would be an important step to address the health care needs of rural Canadians.
“It would be a first step to make sure that we’re providing access to services and that we have good coverage and that access is accessible to all Canadians,” he said.
The Health Alliance of Canada (HAC), a health insurance company, says it provides health insurance for rural and non-rural residents in British Columbia.
The company is working on a plan to provide insurance for people living in remote areas, such as the area near the border with Alberta.
“We’re working on it and we’re ready to announce that in the fall,” said Karen O’Brien, executive vice-president and CEO of HAC.
“Our goal is to have it available in 2019.”
The HAC is partnering with the Canadian Rural Health Association (CRHA) and the Manitoba Government Health Association to help develop a health care plan for rural residents.
“There’s a need in rural Manitoba for access to healthcare, so that rural people can access healthcare and have access to their medications,” said Dr. Susan McElroy, CRHA chairperson.
“But rural Manitoba also has very high rates of health care utilization, and that’s what the CRHA is working with us on.”
The CRHA’s rural health program will provide access to health care services for remote and non rural Manitoba residents in need of medical services.
McElray says that the plan will be focused on improving rural access to primary care, which is the primary care of seniors.
“Primary care is a very important part of rural Manitoba, so it’s a real concern,” she says, adding that access to rural healthcare needs to be a priority.
In the meantime, rural health services are needed to help people in remote communities.
“That’s why we’re working with the CRHO, with the Manitoba Health Agency, with all the other stakeholders to create the health insurance plan that will cover all rural residents in Manitoba,” says McElry.
The plan will also provide access for rural people living with disabilities.
The CRHO’s Rural Access Program helps rural communities in rural Canada access health services, including prescription drugs and primary care.
In addition, the CRH is working in partnership with the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) to create a rural health plan that provides coverage for remote areas.
“If you’re a rural person living in a rural community, we want to provide you with a plan that’s affordable, that provides access to quality health care,” said McElrry.
“What’s important to rural Canadians is to be able to access the healthcare that they need and can afford.”
With files from CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief, Dan Smith.